Saturday, April 09, 2005

Really great monitor idea.

This is boiled down from a discussion on a list I own and moderate with over 5,000 software developers (I initiated the discussion):

Let's say you are editing code. What is the number one complaint I hear people talking about from IDEs and editors? Not enough text on the screen. Well, since everything these days operates on fonts, the natural thing to do is to first play with the fixed-width font size being used (variable-width fonts don't work for programmers).

So, now you have, if you are lucky, a font that can display maybe 140'ish characters across. The ideal width is roughly 200 characters. However, what about the vertical? Depending on the editor/IDE, most likely anywhere from 30-50 lines. The ideal height is 200 lines.

Okay, now what? Well, since screens operate on pixels, the next natural thing to do is to increase the number of pixels.

Okay, so you've got 1600x1200 screen resolution. Big deal. The font is so tiny you can't see it. So, you crank up the dpi on the font, but now you have less screen space. A good solution is 96 dpi at 1280x1024 on a 19" monitor. Other than that, you have reached an impass and most people either give up here or start daydreaming about possible scenarios.

The first scenario is to simply put another monitor next to the one you have. Above on a shelf, or next to it, or whatever. This simply won't work and multiple monitors can be a pain to set up (then again, most hardware is the first time). Your eyes will see a big blank space halfway through the middle of the document making it really hard to figure out what is going on (and a lot of programs, including some IDEs, don't multiple monitors into account). Besides, the horizontal is good enough (you can gain a line or two of vertical by moving the taskbar to the left-hand side of the screen - in trade for better readability of open programs - a good tradeoff, IMO) and stacking two monitors is hard. You need to find a bigger monitor or something.

So, what about a 22" monitor with an extremely high resolution like the IBM T221? Doesn't work and that particular monitor is buggy anyway. It also has the worst refresh rate I've heard of in a long time: 22Hz - most monitors these days run at least 50Hz (the rate at which I stop having headaches). Besides, it has already been proven that a higher resolution doesn't work for reading text on a screen without squinting. Also, that particular monitor requires two DVI cables to get the 22Hz - and with that enabled, it "shears" moving images (otherwise 12Hz, which is so sluggish, it isn't worth the pricetag).

How about one of those projector things? Projectors have a ton of weaknesses - one of which being that reasonably priced ones are only 1024x768. The other weaknesses involve dealing with corner desks (which I sit at regularly), having a really clean and extremely flat wall to project onto (not possible unless I want to become Monk, screen text is generally fuzzy no matter what you do, and many projectors have a really low refresh rate (low refresh rates, again, give me headaches). So, the projector is out. It doesn't have the resolution or screen size needed that I can't get with a LCD or CRT, costs way more than either one, and projector bulbs tend to burn out frequently (additional cost and downtime if you don't have bulbs on hand and it burns out at 2a.m.).

Through all of this, I have come up with the perfect monitor. It would look like:

1) Two LCD 19" monitors stacked on top of each other, but would be contained in a single unit with a capable resolution of 1280x2048x32 (i.e. this fits on a corner desk in a cubicle like a charm). This may be hard to picture, but I'm simply talking about fusing the two 19" monitors together in your head - the actual design calls for a single LCD plate of the appropriate dimensions with no separation lines (i.e. monitors have borders - I want no borders inside the big LCD plate).
2) A single DVI cable to the computer (plus an optional SVGA connector and connector).
3) The cables are replaceable (i.e. not permanently attached).
4) A single, standard power supply connector (e.g. 120V surge strip).
5) Instantly recognized by the computer as a single monitor.
6) Have a refresh rate of 50Hz or better.
7) Has a wide/heavy enough base to counter the "top-heavy" issue.
8) Looks sleek and modern (e.g. I like Dell's "Sharp" flat panels while IBM's T221 looks big-and-blocky-and-square-like-a-brick).

Such a monitor shouldn't be that much more complex to build than standard 19" LCD monitors and shouldn't be more than $150 extra to the consumer. I don't know of a single document writer or programmer who wouldn't want one. It fits naturally in almost every existing office space that already accomodates a decent-sized monitor.

The only downside is that this monitor doesn't exist (yet). Tis a shame really. Over 5000 developers need this and no one in the monitor industry has bothered to ask us what we want. I've practically designed the thing for you. Be sure to send me one if you start manufacturing it.

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